Practical Tips to Get Started in the “Motion Sweep”

You may be wondering: what is that? No, it’s not about looking for the broom and sweeping while doing the San Vito dance. Although it is called swept, no, not with the broom. And, once this is clarified, you will ask again: then what is it? Well, it is to follow a moving object or subject with your camera to get a photo in which the background is moved while the moving object or person appears sharp. You’ve almost certainly got it, but since a picture is worth a thousand words, here’s an example:

What’s cool? So now you want to achieve an image similar to this? Well you are in the right place. Today’s article tries to explain how to achieve it. Of course, I warn you, it is not an easy task, it requires a lot of practice (and patience). And I’m not telling you this to discourage you, on the contrary, I’m telling you so that you launch yourself knowing that it’s a challenge, because we like challenges, they motivate us, they help us learn and grow, right? Well, having said that, take a pencil and paper (or what is the same, pay attention 😉) and we are going to proceed to the explanation in the simplest way possible. My challenge is to make sure that when you finish reading this you hit the street to do a sweep or chase your pet around the house, because you have to know that you don’t need a formula one car to do a sweep! 😉

What can you sweep?

To any element that moves. From a motorcycle to a cat, going through a swing or a tennis ball, well, a snail moves and it won’t help you much, hehe. Neither does a turtle, so I better specify and tell you that you can do it with something that moves more or less quickly.

You have to keep in mind that the fewer moving elements it has, the clearer the result will be. It does not mean that it is more or less correct, that will depend on the result you want to obtain. If you include, for example, people, by using slow speeds, you will also capture their movement, which does not mean that the image is not worth it. I give you two examples so you can see the difference and verify that both situations can offer interesting results. As advice I will tell you to try to run away from cars because it is the most used resource, and you want to take different photos, right? Of course, they can be used to practice, for that they are very helpful 😉 .

You should also bear in mind that the movement must be as rectilinear and homogeneous as possible. A kitten jumping or a bike doing “eses” can give you more than one headache!


The type of background you should look for will also depend on the effect you want to achieve, the smoother the background, the fewer trails you will achieve in the sweep, and the more elements, the more trails. You are the artist, I show you the options, you choose the colors from the palette 😉 . As before, it is best seen with an example. Yes, I use a car again, but on the web it is what predominates the most! That’s why I encouraged you before to add a touch of originality 😉

Where to put yourself?

Where they don’t run over you 😉 . Jokes aside, you will have to place yourself in a place where you can follow the movement of the element in parallel. Imagine a trail of breadcrumbs on the floor, think about the movement you make with the broom, well, something similar happens here, the crumbs would be the path that your object or subject to portray travels and the broom would be you with your camera ( but without touching, hehe). For you to understand better I have made a small diagram. I hope the image helps you clarify my words.

This is very important, because if you don’t follow the object with your camera to the sound of its movement, we wouldn’t be talking about panning, no matter how much you get a photo with the background out of focus 😉 .


You will need a camera that allows you to make manual adjustments. With a compact it will be much more complicated, the only way would be to make the shutter open longer, compensating the exposure or shooting in a dark place. In this way the camera automatically understands that it must expose more time to capture more light.

The ideal to perform a sweep is with a telephoto lens, which does not mean that you cannot do it with another type of lens, but that this one will make things easier for you.

A tripod will help you, it is not essential but it can give you a hand when it comes to following your mobile element and it will give you stability. You will have to block the vertical movement and leave the horizontal free (unless you are playing Newton and intend to photograph the Law of gravity, in that case you will have to do it the other way around 😉 ).

shutter speed

Don’t you dare to do this photographic technique automatically because you will hardly get a worthwhile result. Use manual mode or speed priority mode. Set an average speed between 1/20 and 1/60. With very fast speeds you would only be able to freeze the whole scene and if you use very slow speeds, you will achieve the opposite, everything will come out in movement. Anyway this is very arbitrary. It will depend on your camera, where you stand, what light there is… These are some parameters to start practicing and, from there, readjust depending on the conditions you have and the result you expect. Keep in mind that the faster it moves, the faster speeds you can use, and the slower it goes, the slower the shutter speed needs to be on your camera. And also think that the more exposure time, the more complicated it will be to make your protagonist clear. But you know, it’s all a matter of practice!


You are going to work with slow speeds, which means that the diaphragm will be open longer and will capture more light. This means that if it is a very sunny day, your image will most likely be overexposed, that is, burned or with too much light. You can fix this in two ways, the first by using a large depth of field (“f” number of your camera). The background will be less blurred, but in a sweep it is not something serious. The other option is that if you can choose when, take advantage of a cloudy day or avoid the central hours of the day, where the sun hits harder. You can also do them at night, here is a good example of it:

And now that?

You must be thinking that I have told you a lot of things and I still haven’t told you how to actually take the photo, right? Well, you’re right, you already know the preview, when, where and the settings, now you should know that when you have identified your mobile element, you have to focus on it, shoot and follow the trajectory of the movement with your camera, you should not stop until you have the sure that the diaphragm of your camera is closed, which will be when you hear the second click 😉 .

bonus tips

I know that concentrating your attention on doing the sweep and doing it well or as well as possible is enough, but if you also manage to do a good composition, your image will win a lot. You don’t need to place your object in the center of the image, as it will most likely lose interest. Remember, for example, the laws of three thirds and the gaze. You can review them here.

Analyze at home data Exif, this is a dirty word, I know, but it’s just the parameters that the photo was shot with, so you can have an orientation for the next time you go out for sweeps. Look at both the data of those that have given you poor results and those that have helped you achieve your desired image, so you will know where to start next time.

Proof both with him speed priority mode like with him Handbook. You will learn earlier and achieve better results by testing and checking how you work best.

To make the sweep it is important that you adopt a comfortable positionwhich allows you to move freely in the same direction as the object or subject and with the same speed.

don’t forget the creativitywe have already commented that there are many equal sweeps, in fact the galleries are flooded with sweeps of cars, try to be original and look for less seen motifs, around you there are a lot of things that move, look for interesting backgrounds, change the perspective…

You can too convey sensations, see in the following image how the sensation of speed is enhanced with a small tilt of the camera. It seems that the gentleman is going downhill, which gives us the impression that he is going even faster, don’t you think?

And the last and most important advice, in my opinion, is not to throw in the towel the first time, or the second time… You will have to shoot many, many times, each time you will get better and with practice you will learn to find the best ones. motifs, the best backgrounds, knowing what image you can get and adjusting the parameters without needing to shoot thirty times 😉 . Photography, like other disciplines, is like that, you have to practice a lot to master it, sometimes it’s not an easy task, but when you get it, it’s sooo rewarding, you feel sooo good that all the effort will have been worth it.

If you liked it, I ask you to share it on Facebook, Twitter or Google +, I will thank you and I am sure that you will also make someone happy with these new tips. Many thanks and until next time!